Cynthia's story

Cynthia Katz  after rehabilitation

Cynthia Katz, 67, has been a talent agent for over 30 years. “I love it and am hoping to do it for a while longer,” she said. However, her plans were in jeopardy when she was diagnosed with heart failure.

She began experiencing shortness of breath and weakness but brushed it off as a “very nasty cold.” After a few weeks, her symptoms worsened and she went to an urgent care center where a chest x-ray revealed her heart was enlarged and she was encouraged to see a cardiologist. She returned home, but on Christmas night she could not catch her breath and drove herself to the ER at Palisades Medical Center.

She was transferred to Hackensack University Medical Center to undergo several heart surgeries to restore the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. She returned home after a week but fell and was admitted to a nursing facility. When her shortness of breath didn’t improve, she returned to the hospital and was diagnosed with chronic diastolic heart failure – stiffness in the left ventricle muscle that leads to a decrease in the amount of blood pumped out to the body. Additional tests revealed she also had kidney damage on top of her existing chronic kidney disease and she underwent surgery to remove fluid from around the lungs.

Even though she was stabilized, her injuries and surgeries left her with shortness of breath, weakness in her legs and fatigue. Knowing intensive rehabilitation was the next step in her recovery, Cynthia chose Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation – Saddle Brook. “I asked a bunch of people and Kessler Saddle Brook kept coming up as being one of the best facilities for my type of condition,” she said.

Upon admission, her goal was clear: “To get my strength up and have the tools to get me better.” Cynthia’s physician-led team of rehabilitation nurses, physical and occupational therapists, and other specialists put a plan in place to help her reach that goal.

In physical therapy, she focused on regaining her strength, endurance and mobility. Her therapists challenged with activities she would encounter every day at home, like walking on various indoor and outdoor surfaces, climbing stairs and standing from a seated position. She also used the NuStep recumbent bike – a stationary bike offering a low-impact cardio workout -- to increase her leg strength.

Even though she did not enjoy all the exercises, she was determined to regain her independence. “A lot of these activities I did not so much enjoy, like the stairs, but I knew I had to do them in order to get stronger,” she said. A turning point came when she was able to “stand up from a low chair on my own.” Through hard work, Cynthia progressed to walking without assistance and completing eight repetitions during the 30-second chair stand test – recording the number of stands a patient can complete in 30 seconds with their hands crossed over their chest.

Her occupational therapists provided the training and strategies to perform daily activities with increasing independence. Kessler’s Canine Companion therapy dogs were incorporated into her sessions to assist her in her exercises and provide emotional support. “I loved working with the therapy dogs,” she said.

Cynthia’s niece participated in Kessler’s care partner education training and planned to stay with her upon her return home to ensure a safe transition.

She expresses gratitude to her Kessler care team for their encouragement and for equipping her with the tools and knowledge she needs to continue to build on her gains. “My rehab team has worked me very hard and educated me to give me the tools so when I leave here, I can keep progressing,” she said.

She describes her Kessler experience as “great…I had such a wonderful experience here.” Throughout her rehabilitation journey, Cynthia learned the power of her own strength. “I’m strong, I’m capable and I can do this.”

After almost two weeks at Kessler, she was looking forward to “getting my strength back and working towards getting back to my normal life.”

For anyone going through a similar situation, Cynthia emphasizes the importance of patience. “It’s not going to be easy or get better overnight. You have to put the work in and give yourself time to heal.”